Daiute, C. (1985). Writing and Computers. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Pfaffenberger, B. (1986). The Scholar's Personal Computing Handbook: A Practical Guide. Boston: Little, Brown.
Collete Daiute's guide and Bryan Pfaffenberger's handbook address different audiences, but both are likely to be of interest to writing teachers--particularly on the college level--who wish to expand their use of personal computers. Furthermore, each of these recently published books fills a niche that has remained empty too long. Daiute's book is the first I know of written for composition teachers on all levels and attempting a full integration of new writing pedagogy with current computer technology. And Pfaffenberger's handbook is, I believe, the first to cover so fully the scholarly uses of personal computers. Considering these ambitious aims, I am not surprised that each falls short in minor ways.
In their introductory chapters, both authors use stories to illustrate quickly the scope of their subjects. Daiute provides a five-page account of a day in her own life as a computer user. She contacts others via a communication network, checks her electronic mail, writes messages, converses with a friend, edits and sends out a manuscript, and helps some children with word processing. Pfaffenberger shows a fictitious biology teacher as she consults a database, corrects quizzes, analyzes grades, completes a conference paper, and constructs a bibliography, all at her desktop computer. With these scenarios and the accompanying commentary, each author introduces possibilities that may be unfamiliar to instructors whose computer experience is limited to word processing.
Daiute's purpose is to increase the effectiveness of the personal computer as a tool for teaching writing. As she puts it, "This book is about writing--a social, physical, and cognitive process--and it is about computers." She addresses all teachers who require students to write, as well as parents who are "interested in the impact of computers on their children's education." Skeptical about drill and practice routines, Daiute emphasizes electronic mail, prompting programs, text-analysis programs, and other adjuncts to word processing which pertain to whole texts rather than isolated skills. Although the book is accessible to those without prior knowledge of computers, it does not devote undue space to computer basics. Writing and Computers is divided into four major sections, the first of which contains three chapters. These initial chapters present a coherent theory of writing as a social,
physical, and cognitive process. The chapter on the first of these traits establishes a theme which extends through the book: that the computer can accentuate our view of writing as ultimately a public process, involving collaboration and cooperation. Another theme also emerges: that the teacher's role changes from leader to consultant in a computer-writing classroom. The least effective of these opening chapters is the third; here, comments on the computer seem only an afterthought, following a long discussion of cognition in writing.
The book's second section is entitled "Computer Tools and the Writing Process." Here there are chapters on "Prewriting," "Composing," and "Revision and Editing." Although fitting logically into the book's structure, these chapters go over territory that previous books, articles, and essays have covered. If this is the least original part of the book, Daiute nevertheless gives it several distinctive touches. For example, her comments on collaboration during computer revision are perceptive and useful.
The third major section in Daiute's book consists of five chapters, each concerning computer writing for a particular age group. Daiute's previous research has prepared her well for the chapter on "Very Young Writers," the longest and most substantial of the lot. As she moves up into chapters on college writers and teachers as writers, she has less to offer. In fact, there are passages, such as one on "Adults' Writing Development" (pp. 228-230) that seem poorly integrated with the rest of the chapter. And on occasion Daiute lapses into the obvious: "Computer programs for adults should
easy to use, yet should offer the wide range of features that adult writers need" (p. 234).
Part four of the book, far briefer than the other three, is called "Setting Up Computer Writing Environments." Perhaps the most valuable feature here is the series of checklists for selecting software. Similar guidance is available in other sources, but Daiute's approach seems particularly clear and comprehensive. On the other hand, the final chapter on the design of computer writing environments is disappointing. I have yet to see this topic discussed in any depth, yet it is deserving of careful attention as computer writing labs proliferate in schools and colleges.
Other features of this book include an afterward with a curiously inflated title, "The Future of Writing," a four-page bibliography, an extensive list of computer resources, and a glossary.
The handbook by Pfaffenberger contains five parts. A two-chapter introduction provides, among other things, substantial technical detail about the inner workings of personal computers. The second major section in some respects parallels Daiute's second section: it contains chapters on prewriting, composing, editing, and proofreading. But it also includes discussions of software and printing techniques. This section, the longest of the five, is why Pfaffenberger's book is likely to be of special interest to writing teachers, although he has written the book for "anyone who researches a literature, forms conclusions about it, and teaches or writes about those conclusions."
The most distinctive portion of this handbook is chapters nine through sixteen, each of which covers an aspect of research, communication, or "number crunching." There are chapters, for example, on bibliographies, telecommunications, database research, and spreadsheets. These chapters are not exactly parallel, but most contain a general explanation of the technology in question, amply illustrated with diagrams and sample printouts. Also, there is usually some consideration of software programs available, an assessment of advantages and disadvantages, and finally a glance at the range of possible scholarly use.
In some chapters, Pfaffenberger successfully worked around one difficulty inherent in discussions of generic computer software: the multiple variations on the market for some types of software and the resulting impossibility of generalizing too broadly. He solves this problem by highlighting examples of the function in question. In the chapter on word processing, he focuses on MACWRITE and WORDSTAR as representative of on-line formatters. And in discussing database management, his examples are ZYINDEX PROFESSIONAL and SUPERFILE, among others. As might be expected in such an inclusive handbook, certain topics receive disproportionate attention. The author devotes a 25-page chapter and 50 pages of appendices to on-line database services, a total of 75 pages out of approximately 350. On the other hand, some chapters seem rather thin. A case in point is Chapter 6, "The Electronic Editor," which contains only fifteen pages. There are a scant two paragraphs on literary analysis. This
unevenness extends to the sections on "Resources" which conclude each chapter; some of these are full of additional references, while others are so sketchy as to be useless.
I have one additional though, less significant, quarrel with Pfaffenberger's book: the often confusing format. Some pages contain so many headings, subheadings, and diagrams that they are difficult to read. The clarity of these visual cues is at times lost in the jumble of the surrounding text.
As the number of books on writing and computers increases--and there are many recent additions to this genre--we will be better able to assess the relative quality of the two under review here. The National Council of Teachers of English has recently issued several new publications which may complement--or compete with--the Daiute book. And Random House has just published The WordWorthy Computer which appears comparable in some respects to Pfaffanberger's handbook. The books by Daiute and Pfaffenberger should prove useful for some time to come. Each is substantial, ambitious in scope, and likely to hold up well, despite the volatility of this field.